Long Durational Natural Phenomenon

Life span of Gaylussacia brachycera

Duration: 13,000 Years 

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Cover photograph CC BY-SA 3.0 Choess

Gaylussacia brachycera, commonly known as box huckleberry or box-leaved whortleberry, is a low North American shrub related to the blueberry and the other huckleberries. Like its relatives, it bears white urn-shaped flowers in the early summer, which develop to blue, edible berries in late summer. It is mostly found in Appalachia; many of its stations there were known to natives, who picked and ate the berries, before botanists became aware of them in the 1920s.

A relict species nearly exterminated by the last ice age, box huckleberry is self-sterile and is found in isolated colonies which reproduce clonally by extending roots. One colony in Pennsylvania was once estimated to be as many as 13,000 years old; more recent estimates have an upper bound of about 8,000 years, which would make it the oldest woody plant east of the Rocky Mountains. Another colony in Pennsylvania, about 1,300 years old, has been protected by the Hoverter and Sholl Box Huckleberry Natural Area.

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